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What Is SSID (Service Set Identifier) & How it Works

A man setting up his wifi router

An SSID is a Service Set Identifier. 

Simply put, your SSID is the name of your network. When you look at a list of available Wi-Fi connections from your phone, laptop, or other device, all of those available networks are SSIDs. 

First, an SSID is set by default. However, you can change it to something unique, memorable, and secure. Using the default SSID can open up your network to additional security risks. Additionally, it is much easier to remember a unique one instead of trying to remember the difference between two very similar numbers. 

Additionally, multiple networks in a geographic location might have the same SSID, which can cause confusion for internet users.

Where to Find Your SSID

The instructions for finding your SSID are slightly different, depending on what kind of device you are using to connect to the network.

Router: Typically, the default SSID of your network will be printed on a sticker on the router, either on side or the bottom. If your SSID has been changed, your next best option is to use one of the following methods of looking up the information. 

Windows: Left-click on the desktop taskbar’s Wi-Fi icon. Your local networks will appear, labeled with their SSIDs.

macOS: On the menu bar, select the Wi-Fi icon. All available local networks will appear. 

Android: First, tap settings, then select Wi-Fi to view your local networks by SSID. 

iOS: Tap settings, then select Wi-Fi to access a list of local networks, labeled by SSID.

How is an SSID Created? 

Default SSIDs are set by the manufacturer, who uses a combination of letters and numbers provided by the company that manufactured that network’s router. For example, a TP-Link router may label one of its networks like this: TP-Link_XXXXXX, with the X’s being a unique number to that model. 

You can change yours to just about anything you want, as long as it is between 2 and 32 characters. However, it’s a bad idea to include personal details, such as your name or address. 

How to Change Your SSID

Changing your SSID is an easy task that just about anyone could do. 

Here is a step-by-step guide: 

  1. Using a phone or computer, connect to your router. 
  2. Locate your router’s IP address using the IP-identifying tool from What Is My IP Address?
  3. Open the browser of your choice and type in your router’s IP address.
  4. Using your admin credentials, log into your router. Your username and password may be printed on the bottom or back of your router. 
  5. Open your router’s Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) settings. 
  6. In the SSID field, input your chosen, unique Wi-Fi name. 
  7. Click save before you exit. 

Your new SSID may not appear on your list of available networks for several seconds or up to a minute. If your new and old SSID appear at the same time in your list of networks, that’s okay. The old SSID will disappear shortly, especially if you give it a few minutes and refresh the list. 

Why You Should Change Your SSID

The primary benefit of changing your SSID is to reduce any confusion between your SSID and others. 

If you and a neighbor use the same router model or manufacturer, your SSIDs are going to be very similar to one another. Human error may lead you to assume that you’re connecting to your own network, when you are really connecting to someone else’s. 

If the other network is password-protected, you’ll be locked out of that network and will likely realize that you had tried to connect to the wrong one. But what if your neighbor doesn’t password-protect their network, and you connect automatically? 

Suddenly, you may find yourself unwittingly connected to an unsecured network where cyber criminals may be monitoring your traffic or stealing your personal information, including data, credit card numbers, and passwords.

Does Changing Your SSID Protect Your Wi-Fi Network?

Yes and no. 

On the one hand, if a criminal plans to commit a brute-force attack against your network, it doesn’t really matter what that network is called. They can attack a network with a fun SSID like “Not the Droids UR Looking For” just as easily as they can attack Linksys00042. 

On the other hand, having a default SSID may be a sign to would-be hackers that a person doesn’t take their internet security seriously, thus putting a target on their back. 

Many cyber attacks involve cracking the victim’s WPA2 encryption. The SSID is one part of the encryption algorithm, which means that a default SSID can make a hacker’s job easier. 

Does Hiding Your SSID Help? 

Most of today’s routers have the option to hide your SSID. 

This is easy to do. After you go through the same steps as you would follow to change your SSID, look for a checkbox or toggle that you can select to either “hide SSID” or “broadcast SSID.”

Cyber security professionals have different opinions on whether or not this makes a big difference when it comes to data and network security. As a method for protecting your network, hiding your SSID has these potential benefits: 

  • If a hacker can’t see your SSID, they can’t initiate a brute-force attack. 
  • Hiding your SSID makes you a more difficult target. There are plenty of easy targets for hackers to go after! 

Drawbacks of Hiding It

There are also drawbacks to turning off your network’s broadcast mode. 

First of all, hiding your SSID does not actually completely hide the network. There are plentiful tools that cyber criminals can use to reveal hidden SSIDs in a specific geographic area. Hiding your it could make your network more interesting and appealing to hackers in the area who want to do a brute-force attack, because it suggests that you’re intentionally hiding something valuable.

Second, it can be inconvenient to try to connect to a hidden network. You are essentially setting up additional hurdles to clear when it comes to connecting a new device or re-connecting an established device to your network. 

How to Secure Your Network

Here are some of the best ways that you can secure your network: 

  1. Routinely update passwords
  2. Create a VPN
  3. Manage your spam emails
  4. Avoid phishing scams
  5. Encrypt files that contain sensitive information

Whether you choose to change your SSID, leave it set to default, or hide it from broadcast mode, it is important to take additional security measures to keep your network safe.

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